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Fast or Accurate? Governing Conflicting Goals in Highly Autonomous Vehicles

by   A. Feder Cooper, et al.

The tremendous excitement around the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) comes from their purported promise. In addition to decreasing accidents, AVs are projected to usher in a new era of equity in human autonomy by providing affordable, accessible, and widespread mobility for disabled, elderly, and low-income populations. However, to realize this promise, it is necessary to ensure that AVs are safe for deployment, and to contend with the risks AV technology poses, which threaten to eclipse its benefits. In this Article, we focus on an aspect of AV engineering currently unexamined in the legal literature, but with critical implications for safety, accountability, liability, and power. Specifically, we explain how understanding the fundamental engineering trade-off between accuracy and speed in AVs is critical for policymakers to regulate the uncertainty and risk inherent in AV systems. We discuss how understanding the trade-off will help create tools that will enable policymakers to assess how the trade-off is being implemented. Such tools will facilitate opportunities for developing concrete, ex ante AV safety standards and conclusive mechanisms for ex post determination of accountability after accidents occur. This will shift the balance of power from manufacturers to the public by facilitating effective regulation, reducing barriers to tort recovery, and ensuring that public values like safety and accountability are appropriately balanced.


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